Will John Kerry Take Reagan's Cake and Bible to Iran?
Word that Senator John Kerry has suggested to the White House that he undertake a mission to Iran predictably has the conservative commentariat apoplectic. But while many worry that such a high-level U.S. visit could undermine the opposition at a time of growing unrest with - and unease for - the regime, the right-wing doth protest too much.
After all, while a Kerry trip to Iran would represent what the Wall Street Journal deemed "the first high-level U.S. emissary to make a public visit to Tehran since the 1979 Islamic revolution," Ronald Reagan's national security adviser led a secret delegation there in 1986 during the disastrous Iran-Contra affair. And to be sure, John Kerry won't be following Reagan's policy of bringing the mullahs a cake, a Bible - and U.S. weapons.
The Iran-Contra scandal, as you'll recall, almost laid waste to the Reagan presidency. Desperate to free U.S. hostages held by Iranian proxies in Lebanon, President Reagan provided weapons Tehran badly needed in its long war with Saddam Hussein (who, of course, was backed by the United States). In a clumsy and illegal attempt to skirt U.S. law, the proceeds of those sales were then funneled to the contras fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. And as the New York Times recalled, Reagan's fiasco started with an emissary bearing gifts from the Gipper himself:
A retired Central Intelligence Agency official has confirmed to the Senate Intelligence Committee that on the secret mission to Teheran last May, Robert C. McFarlane and his party carried a Bible with a handwritten verse from President Reagan for Iranian leaders.
According to a person who has read the committee's draft report, the retired C.I.A. official, George W. Cave, an Iran expert who was part of the mission, said the group had 10 falsified passports, believed to be Irish, and a key-shaped cake to symbolize the anticipated ''opening'' to Iran.
The rest, as they say, is history. After the revelations regarding his trip to Tehran and the Iran-Contra scheme, a disgraced McFarlane attempted suicide. After his initial denials, President Reagan was forced to address the nation on March 4, 1987 and acknowledge he indeed swapped arms for hostages (video here):
"A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages."
(For more background, read the Reagan diaries, starting with the part in which he admits in 1986, "I agreed to sell TOWs to Iran.")
Of course, the sad saga didn't end there. Then Lt. Colonel and now Fox News commentator Oliver North saw his Iran-Contra conviction overturned by an appellate court led by faithful Republican partisan and later Iraq WMD commissioner Laurence Silberman. And in December 1992, outgoing President George H.W. Bush offered Christmas pardons to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and five other Iran-Contra scandal figures. Among them were Elliot Abrams and John Poindexter, men who eight years later reprised their roles in the administration of George W. Bush. (The disgraced Robert McFarlane reemerged this fall, only to be disgraced again over his work as a lobbyist for the government of Sudan.)
As for John Kerry, neither the White House nor the Iranian government in Tehran have yet to approve a journey to Tehran by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman. "Is he planning now on going to Iran?" Kerry spokesman Frederick Jones responded, "The answer is no."
Nevertheless, the fact that Kerry hasn't scheduled a Tehran trip won't stop the Republican echo chamber from foaming at the mouth over it. Of course, the one thing the Iranian opposition wants least is American military strikes against the nation's nuclear infrastructure. And that, as Alan Kuperman and John Bolton once again made clear over the past 24 hours, is what the right-wing appears to want most.